How we view our history and future can be skewed, or even screwed if we don't see either well. I promised my readers I would…
My life is at a weary, regretful turning point. A valued but distant eight-year relationship appeared to end. Perhaps not entirely, we go on as friends. My whole fifty-year career as a liberal minister may have ended with a dull thud. My lower back is out, my ears are clogged and inflamed, my eyes have eyelashes stuck in them, and I’m listening to the blues. I’m feeling alone and challenged in life, but so it goes sometimes.
When the editor of The Catalyst, the newsletter for the Unitarian Universalists of Grants Pass (UUGP) asked me to participate in their ongoing series, “Meet the Members,” I gladly started writing. As detailed in my last month’s entry here, I value my decades of work there and my designation as minister emeritus, but my visits there had grown rare, none this last year. I thought it would be a good way to introduce myself to the newer members and inform the long-established members of who I was and am and what the fellowship meant to me.
I wrote three versions, each more edited down for word length and to avoid saying even more telling things that might not be appropriate there. However, the FMR (Fellowship Ministerial Representatives) committee intervened and objected to it being published. In their view, I should have sought permission to send in even this mild, partly honest report. I’ll post it here after this introduction. I might post the longer, more telling version here at earthlyreligion next month along with a fuller telling of the larger scandal in UUA and the UUMA.
The FMR embarked on efforts to insist I sign a new Letter of Covenant. I had signed one in 2018 and had mostly tried to stay out of fellowship activities and deliberations since, but they wanted an updated one that included mine following the UUMA (Minister’s Association) guidelines, a seventeen thousand word professional ethical and legal guideline for most UU ministers. I had pulled away from the UUMA over twenty-five years ago over their increasingly adamant, officious, legalistic group pressure tactics then. In my view, that trend has gotten worse lately since the Gadfly Papers bruhaha which led to many principled UU ministers signing on to a “We Quit the UUMA” letter, which I have also endorsed.
I’ve mentioned that I publish my own website in Grants Pass but hadn’t promoted it there (or anywhere, other than rarely in a tweet) and have had no members of UUGP subscribe other than one gentleman who had pulled away from them years ago. By publishing my “Meet the Member” report here I’m not intervening in their affairs, I’m publishing my own affair in my own realm.
I had asked the FMR how to edit it down to make it agreeable to their view. That wasn’t answered. They instead embarked on “getting me back into covenant” by requiring I sign on to the new, more stringent one. I objected, saying it seems like four to one to me and that it wasn’t so much a negotiation as a confrontation. When I wouldn’t sign, they declared I’m out of covenant, ending any further relationship with me. I accepted their decision, but I leave chagrinned that fancy words like covenant are used instead of the plainer words like control.
Here’s my offending entry for their newsletter.
Meet Byron Bradley Carrier
It is a privilege and honor to feature a beloved Unitarian Universalist to many, Reverend Byron (Brad) Carrier. He was instrumental in promoting Unitarian Universalism in Grants Pass and all of southern Oregon. Byron generously responded to my questions about his life and experiences as a Unitarian Universalist.
I was born in Pontiac, Michigan, the first of five, two hours before the bomb blast in Hiroshima. Dad, then 44, was a mechanical engineer, one of the more than one hundred thousand who had to scurry for jobs after WWII and Korea wound down. We had lived in ten houses by the time I got to the 5th grade, settling finally in a summer cottage on a lake. I went on to attend seven more schools (including Mortuary School, a Bachelor’s in Psychology and Philosophy, and the Humanist Institute) before graduating with a Master of Divinity from a UU seminary, then located at the University of Chicago.
I didn’t know what college was until I had to take two years prior to attending the Wayne State School of Mortuary Science in Detroit. I had lucked into a job at the local funeral home that also supplied the area’s ambulance. In the ambulance, I saw some die, saved some, and caught (not “delivered”) a baby when I was 19. I heard a lot of funeral services, sat with grieving families, and learned to embalm. I ended up liking college, especially the sciences. Chemistry, biology, anatomy and physiology enthused me, and going on to get a bachelor’s degree, found that logic, psychology, and eastern religions added to that enthusiasm.
At about age twenty I started attending a Unitarian church, taught Sunday School, and ended up changing plans to be a psychologist counselor to attend the Meadville/Lombard Theological School at the University of Chicago in 1969. Ministry’s calling was more of a challenge and opportunity than funeral directing, social work, or counseling. It dares to take “It All” on.
Ordained by my Michigan student church but not yet fellowshipped by the UUA, I became a campus minister for three years in Urbana, Illinois. Our chapel hosted Karate at 5 AM, Yoga, and Tai Chi later, dances on Saturday nights, a black church on Sundays, and we started a vegetarian “educational foodservice” with a cool coffee house (The Red Herring) in the basement. My “guru friend,” Dr. Arwind Vasavada, of India, who had just trained with Dr. Carl Jung, and who I went to India with in ’72, officiated at Janice’s and my wedding, and my first son Tobias was soon born.
Then I served five years as a preacher and pastor in rural eastern North Carolina for the Red Hill Universalist Church. Universalists seemed homier and more heartfelt than the Unitarians. Red Hill was quaint and kindly, America as it once was. I caught my second son Ira, born in the parsonage.
I also caught my third son Benjamin, born in an apartment near the seminary where I had returned to complete my master’s and obtain Fellowshipping with the UUA. The first stint (’69 to ’71) had been a time of social upheaval, pushing the stuffiness that liberal religion had become. The second (’85-’86) was more sedate. (While the UUs had once owned all four corners at 57th and Woodlawn at the edge of the University of Chicago, only the church now remains, and the seminary bounces around on Chicago’s distant north side.)
Luckily, after finishing seminary and obtaining fellowshipping, I was sent to Ashland in 1986 to be an “extension minister” for the small lay-led fellowship. We moved RVUUF after one year in Talent to the Cabaret Theater in Ashland for three years, and soon bought the large, lovely church on 4th St. The congregation had tripled, one of the fastest growth rates in the denomination. People liked that I gave intelligent sermons on sometimes touchy topics with a sense of ease and spirit, and they liked the public “Liberal Religion” sign.
As the only UU minister in southern Oregon, I took on “extension” to visit small fellowships in Klamath Falls, Roseburg, and Bend, and I helped get a small group of UU enthusiasts going in Grants Pass, reestablishing it as the UUFGP. I preached once a month or so and visited the sick, but largely let the group wend its way through numerous phases and locations.
But I inappropriately necked twice with a Chinese college student and it became a huge scandal in Ashland. About half the congregation thought it was overplayed and sought understanding from the UUA, but the UUA backed the other half while reprimanding and abandoning me. Eight years of service and success came to nothing.
The stress from that added to marital challenges, resulting in divorce, my fault, if fault there be. For a year or two, I couldn’t write a coherent paragraph, much less preach. The Grants Pass fellowship provided kind ears, getting me back in the pulpit, if barely.
Good old hard physical work, like the Blind Saint in India had recommended to me, got my strength and psyche back. Hardly the sort of thing someone with a Master of Divinity typically does, building dry stack natural rock retaining walls. It left lasting visible evidence of hard, skillful work, paid the bills, and provided two perks: the dirt of the day would flow away, down the shower drain, and the boogers were worth picking.
Here are before and after photos of one of the dozens of projects I did for twenty years. My walls will look good and function well for hundreds of years.
It was during this time that I tried to stay relevant in the religion I had championed by prepping sermons, weddings, and memorials out of a wounded spirit and with what seemed to me “spare time and spare change.” Most of the postings to my extensive but seldom-visited web page come from my sermons in Grants Pass. Poke around at www.earthlyreligion.com to see those, editorials, reviews, podcasts, and more. I welcome you there. If three of you visit, my audience will have doubled! That’s exponential growth!
Trouble is, I’ve got the preacher habit. I got used to having the latitude to think and speak. I see what’s going on and try to comment on it. Like Emerson said, “Always the seer is a sayer.” While most fear public speaking, I like it. What an honor to have people listen, think, feel – and pay! Sometimes it was easy; sometimes most challenging. I always gave the best I could as I went.
I liked driving over from Ashland to conduct services in Grants Pass once or twice a month for some years, then less, but it was a visit, speak, relate, and leave sort of ministry. As that frequency decreased, I tried to stuff more and more into each sermon, resulting in some of the worst of my career.
Also, I fear I tried to speak to America through my congregants, and while UUs are better at hearing edgy, thoughtful stuff than Americans seem to be lately, this doesn’t reach America, and maybe I’ve slighted congregants who needed something more. Perhaps I could have listened and prayed better or been more of a leader. Perhaps I’m like Father McKenzie – “nobody saved.” I’ve boxes of sermons and an extensive library, all of it going to no use.
What about our UU faith resonates with you?
Unitarians and Universalists bravely took on the issues of their days with faith in reason and freedom. Foolish impositions like an imposed trinity and a sadistic hell were left behind. It’s one of the only religions to embody Renaissance, Enlightenment, logical and scientific reasoning, and self-governing ideals. Real-world care for justice and inclusive pluralistic community replaced pie in the sky escapes. Humanists and quirky oddballs were included. Creative readings and hymns were developed, like Ken Patton’s. I love Emerson’s “Divinity School Address,” but remember it got him barred from all Unitarian pulpits of his day (except for Theodore Parker’s).
Do you have a favorite quote, song/hymn, book, etc. that feeds your soul (either UU or not)?
Singing our prayers always touches me. Here are some of the hymns from the old “Singing the Living Tradition” that I most liked: “May Nothing Evil Cross This Door,” “Morning So Fair to See,” and“My Life Flows On In Endless Song” to name a few. My favorite affirmative reading from an old Universalist hymnal: “Give me good digestion, Lord, and something to digest.” My favorite beyond-UU hymn is “Open Mine Eyes.” My favorite meaningful songs: too many to list from show tunes and rock. For instance, see a list of the karaoke songs I’ve done or want to at https://www.earthlyreligion.com/singing-my-way/. (Sorry, I don’t know how to make that an automatic link.)
What activities do you enjoy?
The shining silence of deep meditation. Working out till I’m huffing, puffing, and sweating. Sweating in the sauna, then a cold shower. Singing full-heartedly at karaoke. Making love with an eager, grateful partner. Conversational intimacy with a stranger, congregant, or old friend. Hiking a hilly trail. White water rafting in a kayak. Building an artful rock wall. Funky dancing and music jams. Writing and public speaking when it flows. Loving the one dawn and the one sunset we regularly roll through. Thanking God for breath.
What else would you’d like us to know?
While I’m disgruntled at some aspects of the UU movement and regretful for the ways I failed to fulfill my calling in it, I’m deeply grateful for the longer tradition. I have faith that intelligent, kind-hearted, brave people will keep renewing it. I have long-term faith in the two UU congregations I helped grow in southern Oregon. It has been an honor to think for myself and sincerely say so, to receive heartfelt praise and appreciation for the times I did something right, and to be both called forth and supported as I went. I’m especially grateful for how the good UUs of Grants Pass granted me the honorific title of emeritus and often buoyed my spirit.
Neither the fellow contractors around my rock wall world nor the dancers and singers around the music world know I am a minister. Once or twice a month I’d accumulate ideas and feelings, present them, and then try to be of some friendly but not intrusive service to persons and the institution. Now such ministerial inclinations are dissipated to writing and meeting people in general.
Having moved a lot when younger, and not wanting to lay that on my sons, I gave up trying for more UU settlements. Couldn’t get over my embarrassment and gripes and didn’t want to go on to living in new fishbowls for three-year stints. Been here for 36 years. The geography, climate, and social situations in southern Oregon suit me fine. It’s been a good place to raise my now middle-aged sons.
I’m scattered on what to contribute (and how to pay for it) in my remaining years. I’ve been working on my website and impending books. But very few share my interests. I feel called to both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Psychedelic-Assisted Therapies, and I’d like to write and perform music, but then, I’m neither credentialed in the former nor skilled in the latter. Swimming in clear, warm saltwater beckons. I’ll do the best I can as I go in any situation, relying on the karmic results of that. It’s like Vasavada used to say, “Be in it, do your best, and then give it up to God.”